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The first Chick-fil-A Waldorf Military Appreciation Night on Wednesday served 810 veterans, service members and family members at St. Charles Towne Center in Waldorf.

The evening was a group effort by 43 Chick-fil-A stores in the area, according to Waldorf Chick-fil-A owner and operator Ken Weikel.

“We have so many military in this area, and it’s our time to serve them as they’ve served us,” Weikel said.

He said military service not only affects the individual serving but also families. He said his father served in the U.S. Navy for 27 years, and he remembers as a little boy his father coming home from deployments.

“I know the huge sacrifice that he made and my mom made,” Weikel said.

The Chick-fil-A cow, the Blue Crabs baseball team mascot Pinch and McGruff the Crime Dog also came out to greet service members and their families and to share laughs with children.

“This is by far the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Weikel said. He said his store was inspired to hold a military appreciation night by Chick-fil-A in San Diego, that also held the event Wednesday, as well as Chick-fil-A in Tampa, Fla.

Weikel said each event is unique to its community, and supporters and personnel at the event all donated their time and services.

Mindi Roberts, marketing director at the Waldorf Chick-fil-A, said service members were asked to show their military ID. Veterans were asked to show their ID as a retired service member or separation papers, and family members showed the ID or papers of their service member.

The appreciation was “just to celebrate the commitment they made to serve our country and the world,” Roberts said.

Families of deployed or fallen service members also were welcome to the event.

“We certainly want to honor that service,” Roberts said.

After checking in, veterans, service members and family ordered food and ate outside. Earlier in the evening, they were entertained with a patriotic medley by the Schubert Singers and later by the music of the Sara Gray Trio.

Supporters at the event included the USO, Meadows Original Frozen Custard, Buca di Beppo Italian Restaurant, Best Buy Mobile, St. Charles Apartments, Bow-tie Booths and Up the Creek Rentals of Indian Head.

John and Somer Smith live in Waldorf and heard about Military Appreciation Night from a friend who sent them a picture of the Chick-fil-A sign advertising the special event. John Smith has been in the U.S. Army for six years.

“[I’m] here supporting my husband,” Somer Smith said.

Paul Babiarz has been in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years and attended Military Appreciation Night with his wife and two sons. The family lives in Waldorf, and Babiarz said he had just returned the week before from Afghanistan.

“Just a little R and R time and spend a little time with my family,” Babiarz said about his attending Wednesday’s event. He said free Chick-fil-A also was an incentive because when he is deployed he misses Chick-fil-A and fountain sodas.

rbarnabi@somdnews.com